Collaborative Divorce: Divorce With Respect Week

Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris and the Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon joined other mayors across the country to proclaim March 4-8, 2024, “Divorce With Respect Week.”[1] These mayors recognized that choosing an out-of-court divorce process is better for families and helps to transform the way families resolve conflicts by engaging in “problem-solving” rather than “positional” negotiations.[2] Over 500 professionals (attorneys, mental health and financial) throughout the country participated in offering free 30-minute consultation sessions with individuals asking about the process to untie the knot.[3]

The nationwide effort educated the public about the collaborative divorce process as an alternative to mediation and litigation for those couples who want to divorce in a civil, respectful and fair manner.[4] The collaborative divorce process involves professionals with experience and knowledge in specific disciplines to help the parties obtain a successful outcome on all levels of legal, financial, emotional and parenting, without the threat of litigation.[5]

The process begins with the parties and lawyers entering into a contract entitled the “Participation Agreement.” In Tennessee, the agreement must contain these three provisions: 1) the parties forgo seeking the intervention of the court in the collaborative family matter while the parties are using the collaborative process, 2) the parties jointly engage any professionals, experts or advisors serving in a neutral capacity, and 3) the lawyers must withdraw from the case if one or both of the parties choose to terminate the collaborative process and moves the matter into litigation.[6] Additionally, the process in Tennessee requires that both parties make timely, full, candid and informal disclosure of information related to the collaborative family law matter without formal discovery, and update the information that has materially changed and/or becomes available.[7] During the process, the parties must sign a joint sworn complete financial statement with statements that are not filed with the court but retained by the parties and counsel. The Collaborative Divorce process is the only alternate dispute resolution option in Tennessee that requires complete financial disclosure before signing any settlement agreement.[8] This collaborative divorce process allows couples the ability to maintain privacy and confidentiality and control the process. The parties choose their own collaboratively trained attorneys and jointly hire the neutral professionals needed for their case. Through a multidisciplinary team approach, the couple can make creative and educated decisions about their future.[9]  

The multidisciplinary team includes two collaborative attorneys, a mental health neutral (child specialist if children are involved) and a financial neutral. The collaborative attorney provides honest, voluntary and good faith disclosure of information, disqualifies themselves and their firm if either party chooses to terminate the process and move into litigation, and commits to strive for solutions considering all the family members’ interests. The mental health neutral or divorce coach meets with the parties individually, determines whether they each need their mental health professional, helps educate the parties in communicating and managing emotions, facilitates the four-way meetings, and helps the team understand each other. Their role is not therapeutic but to identify emotionally charged issues and educate the attorneys about those difficult issues. If children are involved, sometimes, a child specialist is part of the team to articulate the needs and concerns of the children and help formulate parenting plans. The financial neutral oversees the data collection for financial disclosures, runs projections with the parties and makes unbiased assessments of their options.[10]

The collaborative divorce process is not for everyone, especially in cases involving a strong history of domestic abuse, mental illness, substance abuse or complete inability to communicate or trust the other party.[11] However, where the parties are emotionally intelligent, display empathy, and want to save time and money, lawyers should counsel them on the collaborative divorce process. Those lawyers who spend the time to be trained collaborators, and who want to engage in a paradigm shift from being in charge to helping clients find solutions that work well for the entire family, will see problem-solving at its finest and sound results for the family.[12] Collaborative lawyers who handle collaborative cases have more job satisfaction, less stress, greater client satisfaction and no accounts receivable.[13] So get trained as a Collaborative Divorce Lawyer, join a collaborative practice group in your area and plan to be part of the nationwide effort at next year’s Divorce With Respect Week.

Amy J. Amundsen is an experienced family law litigator, and now provides attorneys with virtual legal and business consulting services. She also offers mentoring and coaching for attorneys to enhance their legal career, as well as office management services.  

Amundsen has a virtual collaborative divorce practice and is a member of the Memphis Collaborative Alliance (MCA) and the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals (IACP). With her many years of experience litigating and working with professionals from other disciplines, she provides her collaborative clients insightful advice and recommendations to meet their interests. She is a diplomate in the American College of Family Trial Lawyers (ACFTL), an organization limited to the top 100 divorce lawyers in the U.S., and is a fellow in both the International Academy of Family Lawyers (IAFL) and American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML). Amundsen serves on the Tennessee Bar Association Family Law Section Executive Council where she assists in drafting family law legislation and from 2001-2021 assisted in the annual publication of the Tennessee Bar Association Alimony Bench Book distributed to Tennessee judges and lawyers.

She is a Rule 31 family law mediator and a family law arbitrator, trained through the AAML. Amundsen currently serves as co-chair of the AAML Arbitration Committee and member of the AAML Continuing Legal Education, Legislation, and Collaborative and Mediation committees. She has served as the president of the following organizations: Memphis Bar Association, Leo Bearman, Sr. American Inn of Court, The University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law Alumni Chapter and the Tennessee and Memphis Bar Association Family Law sections (two terms). She also has been chair of the Memphis Area Legal Services Campaign and the 2019 University of Memphis Law Pillars of Excellence.

[1] Proclamations from the Tennessee Mayors: Shelby County Divorce With Respect Week Proclamation City of Knoxville Divorce With Respect Week Proclamation

[2] Roger Fisher et al., Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In 4-14 (2d ed. 1991). See also: Paulie H. Tessler, M.A., J.D. & Peggy Thompson, Ph. D., Collaborative Divorce. The Revolutionary New Way to Restructure Your Family, Resolve Legal Issues, and Move On With Your Life (William Marrow Paperbacks, 2006).

[3]  and email from Tim Crouch, The Crouch Group, Inc. (Mar. 14, 2024) Divorce with Respect Week (DWRW) had 10,772 visits during the March 4-8, 2024 from 49 states and Washington D.C.  People from 16 states and Puerto Rice consulted with professionals.  In Tennessee, 335 visits on the website and 11 consultation requests were made.

[4] Email from Tim Crouch, The Crouch Group, Inc. on Mar. 14, 2024.

[5] Johnson & Kozek, “Collaborative Law”, The Family Law Services Handbook, chapter 22, p. 290 (John Wiley & Sons 2010).

[6] Tenn. S.Ct.R.53, Sec. 4 (adopted by order filed and effective 4/1/2019) as amended through Jan. 18, 2024. See also, Tenn. S.Ct. R. 53, Sec. 16 (confidentiality of conduct or statements made during the collaborative process and its inadmissibility pursuant to T.R.E. 408), and Sec. 17 (privilege against disclosure of collaborative divorce communication by party and non-party participant).

[7] Tenn.S.Ct. R. 53, Sec. 12 (a) (adopted by order filed and effective 4/1/2019) as amended through Jan. 18, 2024.

[8] Compare:  Tenn. S.Ct. R. 31, 31 A and 53 (2024).

[9] D. Susanne Snearly, Collaborative Divorce: Where We Were, Where We Are, Where We Are Going, 41 FAM. ADVOC. (Fall 2023) at 36, 38.

[10] Remarks by Katherine Eisold Miller, Attorney, Elena Katz, LCSW, LMFT, Bob Bordett, CFP, CDFA at the AAML Collaborative Divorce Training Institute (July 2022).

[11] Johnson & Kozek, supra, note 5, at 289.

[12] Snearly, supra, note 8, at 38.

[13] Neil Kozek, Attorney, Divorce with Respect: Why AAML Fellows Should Consider Adding Collaborative Practice to their Menu of Options for Our Clients. (February 2024, AAML Newsletter)

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